Review: The Fall of Innocence by Jenny Torres Sanchez

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The Fall of Innocence by Jenny Torres Sanchez (9781524737757)

When Emilia was eight years old, she was attacked in the woods near her elementary school. After the attack, Emilia identified Jeremy Lance as her attacker, a boy with special needs, who lived at the boy’s home near the school. He was a boy she had seen break a school bus window with his fists as he stared out at her. Emilia’s recovery was slow and painful. At first, she would not speak at all partly because of biting through her own tongue during the attack. She saw crows all around her, watching over her and caring for her. At times, she thought that she was a crow too. Now at age 16, Emilia is a survivor. But all of that will be tested as a man comes forward as her real attacker and Emilia’s fragile world begins to crumble.

This book is not a mystery and readers looking for that sort of survival story will not find it here. Rather this is a delicate and complex look at a girl’s survival of an attack and the way that though she has survived, she has not recovered. It is a look at a family fractured by an attack, a family that has never again found its footing. It’s a look at a brother who has been ignored, his needs set aside for Emilia to be the focus. It’s a look at a father unable to stay, needing to flee his family. It’s a look at a mother who sacrificed herself for her daughter and still things are broken and unable to be repaired.

The book has Emilia at its heart, a girl who has avoided mental health care effectively.  Readers will hope that she will find the help that she needs before the darkness becomes too much to bear. Emilia creates her own fantasy world, her own space to live in that gives her room to breathe. She faces her own demons without allowing anyone to help her, isolated though there are so many who would help her.

Delicate yet strong writing allows this book to move with Emilia’s mental state, exploring darkness and mental health. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Philomel Books.

Review: What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee (9781481476560)

Will has discovered that walking the streets of Los Angeles helps him stop thinking about the tragedies in his life. After his father’s suicide, he is trying to find a new rhythm to his life and it seems to be filled with long walks, ones that keep him from being at home too much or visiting the places he went with his father. When Will is home, he works to perfect his father’s cornbread recipe, but nothing seems to improve it at all. Then there is the other thing that he is avoiding, his best friend Playa was raped at a party. Will has no idea how to help her or make it better. So he takes his job at the Dollar Store and turns it into a way to reach out into the world and make connections with Playa and others. Small acts of kindness that allow him to break through the walls he has placed around himself, if he dares.

This book is steeped in sadness to profound that you almost expect your skin to come away tinted with blue. McGhee captures those traumas that are so deep that one cannot deal in a normal way, but only manage to escape in whatever way is possible. In the middle of this sadness is the amazing character of Will, a boy searching for connections while refusing to see those right in front of him. A boy who sees moments of awe and humanity in people that almost bring him to his knees. McGhee shows us all of these with a tenderness that honors his pain and also brings hope.

The writing here is beautiful. Written in small bite-sized pieces accompanied by calligraphy on the opposite page done in gentle grays, these small moments are magnified and made into important life events, as they are. And yet, the importance is an everyday one, a day-by-day one. That is the hope here.

Tender, profound and tragic, this book for teens is cathartic and hopeful. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Review: Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno

Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno

Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno (9780062493644)

Georgina has grown up on the island of By-the-Sea where generations of the women in her family have lived. They are women of specific talents: her mother can brew useful potions, her sister can float slightly off the floor particularly when she’s not paying enough attention. But Georgina doesn’t have any powers at all. The sisters are getting ready for college and leaving the island for the first time in their lives. It’s an island with one special resident, a bird that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, a bird with a distinct family connection. But this year, the bird doesn’t arrive, much to the dismay of the entire island and the birding community who arrive each summer. As the search for the missing bird intensifies, tragedy strikes and soon the summer is filled with salt, magic and mystery.

This is one of those books that you fall for hard. It sweeps in with poetic language that invites readers to explore the island of By-the-Sea, breathe in the magic, taste beautifully-named ice cream flavors and linger in the autumnal graveyard for awhile. Leno lingers over the details, creating a world that is so specific, small and focused. It seeps into your pores, this story, invades you like tainted tea and asks you to believe. And you will.

The characters are all written with such care, each one unique and special. Georgina may feel like a side kick, but she is the full-on protagonist here. She is brave, smart and quite the leader when given the chance. She faces real evil on her island home, must find the perpetrator and meanwhile is in the throes of leaving her home for college while not getting any magical powers herself at all. She is complicated, exploring new romance with the hot girl who visited the island, solving a mystery, and coming into her own.

An amazing read, just right for summer. This is one that fans of magical realism are going to adore. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen.

 

Review: Photographic by Isabel Quintero

Photographic by Isabel Quintero

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Pena (9781947440005)

This breathtaking graphic novel tells the story of the renowned photographer, Graciela Iturbide. Graciela is a Mexican photographer who was worked at her craft for over fifty years. Raised in a large family, she discovered theater and film when she went away to school. Her photography didn’t begin until the tragedy of her daughter dying. She took a photography class and found her mentor, Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Traveling with him, she soon started to take her own photographs. She photographed the desert, cacti, people and her recurring theme of birds. This graphic novel follows her steps of finding her voice through photography and becoming an icon.

This graphic novel caught my attention when I turned past the first few pages and realized that they had incorporated Iturbide’s photographs into the book. Throughout, there are images drawn directly from her photographs and then the photograph itself is revealed. It’s a stunning way to show the skill and art that went into the photo and then display it with its incredible lighting, softer edges and composition.

The story here is beautifully told as well. Graciela is an example of someone who has an incredible gift and eye for images. She dislikes her photographs being called “magical” and throughout the graphic novel things that could be seen as “signs” of the future are rejected as anything other than simple events. It’s this forthright confidence that infuses the entire work with her personality.

One of the best biographical graphic novels I have read, this one is a stunning look at an impressive woman. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Getty Publications.

Review: Life Inside My Mind

Life Inside My Mind

Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles edited by Jessica Burkhart (9781481494649)

This nonfiction book for teens is a brutally honest look at mental illness and how over thirty well-known authors of young adult books have faced their own struggles. It is a book of short personal tales of how mental illness entered their lives, took them over, turned them upside down. It is a book always though about hope, about tools that work sometimes but not always, drugs that help but may not work for everyone, thought processes that offer glimpses of freedom beyond the illness.

This book is profoundly important for teens. It is a book that took such bravery to write. Almost every story has some taut hesitation in it, to reveal something this private. Each one is a testament to the author’s strength, whether they see it themselves or not. Taken together though is when this book really sings. It is a chorus of voices that say strongly that you can survive. You can thrive. We can do this.

Reading this book is an exercise in opening your heart. It belongs in every public library serving teens. It will save lives. Period. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

Review: Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (9781328778239)

Mara and her twin brother Owen have always been close. But when Owen gets drunk at a party and is accused of rape by his girlfriend Hannah, Mara is horrified. Though she doesn’t want to believe it, Mara sees signs that her brother isn’t telling the truth. Meanwhile Mara is dealing with Charlie, her ex-girlfriend, who seems to have quickly found a new girlfriend. Mara starts to find comfort with Owen’s best friend, Alex. At the same time, Mara is facing her own secrets about sexual assault and must decide who to trust with something she has never told anyone about for three years. As all of this collides in Mara’s life, she emerges as a fierce survivor but not before the book takes a deep look at perpetrators, lies and victim blaming.

Blake writes with a searing voice in this book. Some passages blaze on the page, ripping right through the reader with their honesty and their cry for justice. In other parts, the truth is just as present but is filled with grief and loss, a haunted realization that things will not be the same. Throughout though, there is the power of female friendships, of young women standing together and standing up for one another. It will never be enough to erase the trauma of rape, but it is enough to speak for hope and a future beyond the assault.

Blake beautifully portrays a bisexual protagonist who clearly is attracted to both men and women. Mara does not wear bisexuality as a label or as a token gesture, instead it is part of the heart of the book. Mara’s ex-girlfriend Charlie is genderqueer and exploring what that means in terms of pronouns and coming out to her parents. Charlie is a great genderqueer character, beautifully blending both genders at times, at others angry at her voice, and still others feeling like nothing fits. At the same time, she is Mara’s anchor and rock, the safe place that Mara returns to as chaos envelopes her.

Fierce and angry, this novel about sexual assault and the power of survivors. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HMH Books for Young Readers.

The Place Between Breaths by An Na

The Place Between Breaths by An Na

The Place Between Breaths by An Na (9781481422253)

Grace lives a quiet life at home with her father as he searches out the best scientists in the world to find the gene that controls schizophrenia, the mental illness that stole Grace’s mother from them. In a series of flashbacks, Grace’s life is laid out. From her work as an intern at her father’s workplace to her connection with a young researcher to her best friend’s struggle with an unexpected pregnancy. Grace is systematic and has routines that govern her life. She is definitely not her mother. But as her life starts to twist and change, Grace must face the truth about what is happening.

This book is nearly impossible to talk about without spoilers and a large part of what makes this book so successful is the journey of realization that the reader takes along with Grace. The book is multilayered and complex, each chapter taking place in a season, but the seasons are not necessarily in the same years at all. There are flashbacks, chapters that are surreal, others that are frighteningly strange and still others that offer sudden clarity about what is happening. It is a book designed to confuse and reveal, a dance of dizziness that is all-encompassing.

It is the writing here that shines, moments on the page become incredibly meaningful and it’s a book that will have readers turning back to previous chapters to read them in the light of what was just discovered. It’s a puzzle of a book, a deep look at the chaos of mental illness and a profound experience to read.

Masterfully written, this is a harrowing depiction of mental illness in a family. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding

The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding

Abby has always seen herself as more of a sidekick than the heroine of a story. She has a glamorous best friend who is clearly the lead. And after all, Abby is plus size, crazy about fashion and gay. Abby has landed a coveted summer internship at her favorite local boutique, but she has to share it with a girl from her class, Jordi, whom she barely knows. Abby has her eyes on landing some free dresses as well as a job at the boutique next year, but she didn’t plan on falling for Jordi along the way. In fact, her entire summer is entirely different than she had planned. Her best friend is absent thanks to her boyfriend and Abby finds herself helping a boy named Jax with his dad’s app by ranking the best burgers in LA. Abby lives her life in bright colors and pink hair, but when others compliment her she can’t see the truth in what she says, until her whole summer comes tumbling down.

Spalding’s writing is entirely fresh. She writes characters who are anything but stereotypical. She gives her characters zinging senses of humor. She makes eating a pleasure for her female characters rather than something to be ashamed of or avoided. Through all of this, she also tackles being a plus size girl, self-esteem issues, how to figure out if someone you like is also gay, and how eating burgers can lead to an unlikely friendship with a jock who drives a BMW.

It was the romance here that will sweep readers off their feet. From the initial moments of noticing someone else to the first kiss to the joy of continued kissing and being girlfriends. It is all presented as a traditional rom-com format, something that teen lesbian books need more of. Add in the wonderful cover and you have a book just right for rainbow-filled summers.

A joy of an LGBT read that will give you all the feels. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Sky Pony Press and Edelweiss.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (9781250170972)

Zélie has spent most of her life training to fight with a staff, hoping that if her village is attacked again she will be able to defend herself. When she was a little girl, she watched her mother be dragged off and murdered. It was the night the world lost magic and she lost her mother. Now thanks to an accidental meeting with the realm’s princess who is on the run, Zélie has a chance to restore magic to the land. But first she must reunite three magic items together and evade capture by the crown prince who is hunting them down. Zélie must also figure out her own emerging magic just as the crown prince is discovering his own even as he works to destroy magic forever. Traveling through the land, Zélie finds unlikely allies, new enemies and tests the strength of an entire monarchy bent on stopping her.

What an amazing read this is! It is a world that no one has seen before, a world anchored by Black Lives Matter that will echo for fans of Black Panther. It is a book that is incredibly well written, incorporating elements of African culture directly into the fantasy world that is so beautifully rendered here. The world is one that is explored fully, from climbing mountains with surprise fields of flowers to surviving the dangers of the desert to the lush jungles that hide dangers. Throughout this world, there are flares of magic that illuminate the wonder and the possibility of a people refusing to be cowed any longer.

Zélie herself is an amazing protagonist. She is ferocious, loyal and strong. She takes on everything thrown at her, shouldering far more than her own share of every burden. She is inspiring, chosen by the gods and yet still learning to harness her powers. Adeyemi does not hold back in testing her young hero, creating scenes that are excruciating to read. Yet no one will be able to put this novel down until the end and then will crave the next book in the series immediately.

Powerful and strong, this magical read will soon be made into a movie. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.